Middle East experts might quibble about the legal specifics, but a founding principle of the United Nations is that its members not acquire the territory of others through military force. The United States has gone to war repeatedly to beat back nations that defied this principle, but in Jerusalem on Monday, the Trump administration rewarded Israel for its 1967 military seizure of Arab East Jerusalem.
With the U.S. Embassy's opening in Jerusalem, American joins only two other countries — Paraguay and Guatemala — in formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The rest of the world has opted to abide by Article 2 of the U.N. Charter and continue recognizing East Jerusalem, Israeli-annexed Golan Heights and settled portions of the West Bank as occupied territory.
There must be no ambiguity on where the United States stands on this principle. America has fought two bloody wars — leading U.N. forces against North Korean invaders of South Korea in 1950 and in 1991 to liberate Kuwait from occupying Iraqi forces — to uphold the principle of respect for territorial sovereignty. Russia today is under heavy U.S.-led international sanctions for the 2014 seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Territorial respect is essential to the maintenance of international order. Israel deserves no special exception.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues that he has bent over backward to negotiate peace with the Palestinians, only to be rejected at every turn. Palestinian leaders have bungled every opportunity that's come their way, but Netanyahu has done his best to erect as many barriers as possible to the advancement of negotiations.
Even amid Israeli celebrations in Jerusalem on Monday, Israeli forces turned Gaza into a shooting gallery. More than 50 Palestinians, including children, were killed and 1,700 wounded during protests Monday. No Israeli casualties have been reported.
All notions of U.S. even-handedness in peace negotiations are out the window with this embassy move, despite the Trump administration's assertion that the final status of Jerusalem remains up for negotiation. Israel has steadily forced Arabs off their own land in East Jerusalem, then sold the land to Jewish developers to extend Israeli control and weaken any Palestinian claim to the occupied territory. The embassy move encourages Israeli impunity.
The move results not from carefully calculated diplomacy but rather because President Donald Trump is honoring a commitment to a single campaign mega-donor, billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The Las Vegas casino magnate donated $5 million to Trump's inaugural committee and has been so outspoken in his advocacy of the embassy move, he even offered to finance its construction, estimated to cost between $500 million and $1 billion.
Palestinians and Israelis share blame for the miserable state of the peace process, but Trump's embassy move marks a setback of almost insurmountable proportions.
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